The Two Great Thinkers of China

The two great thinkers of China are Confucius (K'ung Fu Tzu) and Lao Tzu; they represent the two main areas of Chinese thought, the two great aspects of the Chinese character, two great gifts from China to the world.

Amazingly, they lived in the same era, and are believed to have met each other. By all accounts, they did not get on all that well.


The feudal system was degenerating and there was considerable political unrest. Confucius deplored the moral decadence of the politicians, and proposed that the solution was a return to the values of the past. He believed in rituals and music as a way of promoting social harmony.

He worked as a teacher, and he would teach any committed student, regardless of their social background or status. He taught from the classic literature of the past, often singing verses from ancient texts, accompanying himself on the zither (an early type of guitar.)

He argued, particularly in his famous book The Analects, that rulers should be selected on merit, rather than inheritance, and that they should have devotion for their subjects, and that they should be of virtuous character to earn the respect of the people. The subject has a duty to obey the ruler, but the ruler also has a duty to listen to criticism.

He became active in politics and he was promoted to be the Minister of Justice. Under the reforms he introduced, it is said that crime was virtually eliminated.

Lao Tzu

Lao Tzu believed that the interest in right and wrong and the focus on ritual and custom shown by Confucius was misplaced. His ideas, as expressed in the Tao Te Ching, focus more on the personal spirituality of the individual. The Tao, or Way, is the underlying principle of life and the universe. Any description of it falls short of its true nature, since it is itself the principle by which everything else is defined. If we try to grasp the Tao using our intelligence, we are doomed to failure.

Lao Tzu maintained that thinking is the cause of all our problems. He advocated that we should avoid the pursuit of goals and just let the eternal Tao flow through us. This he believed to be the skilful approach to life, known as wu-wei, meaning non-effort, or non-striving. This would put us all into harmony with the universe.

He is reputed to have said, "He who speaks does not know, he who knows does not speak," and "The Tao that can be talked about is not the eternal Tao."

When he was aged 80, he became exasperated with the ways of men, and disappeared into the western desert, never to return.

So here we have two different suggestions to solve the problems of society.
Confucius: Everyone should concentrate on preserving the rituals and customs of the past, with good manners and proper etiquette.
Lao Tzu: Everyone should do whatever they want, not trying too hard, but just going along with the flow.

If you were a Chinese philosopher, would you be Confucius, or would you be Lao Tzu?


Anadroid said...

I'm liking Lao Tzu's thinking better than Confucius who is a lot more well known.I wonder why this is....They are both great though.This post is more Choices than opinions.Btw how good is Maggie's blog?she has a great balance of her real life,interesting things and topical topics.
Mine is practically a bunch of links and I'll run dry on good websites sooner or later so i'm considering starting another one

Filo Sofia said...

I don't know how to choose, they are so opposite. I read that Confucius never had even one original thought from his head, he is the ultra conservative, when Lao Tzu had virtually NOTHING BUT original thoughts. I like the story how he went off to the desert of the west. Confucius' dad was 72 and his mum was 18.

Yeah I like her blog its a good one. At the end a th day ther r no rules for blogin its just what u do. An yeah great idea start a new one!

Missy.Blanche'ese said...

I'd be Confucius, he's unbias and all, but I like the quote from Lao Tsu, of "He who speaks does not know, he who knows does not speak," :D

&It's okay, you can just comment me on the usual cbox you commented. Haha, may I know which country are you from? It's great to know people from elsewhere, nice to meet you (:

Missy.Blanche'ese said...

Thanks for your comment too, :D
Lol, I wish to visit England one day (: And do update your blog soon, love reading your posts, takecares.

Brenda said...

& Yups I'm from Singapore, haha :D

Maddie said...

Great post, I think I would probably be Lao Tzu. Although I like Confucius' ideas about good manners and equality, I think that if you focus too much on the past you do not effectively live in the present.

But then there is also a problem with Lao's philosophy that everyone should do whatever they wish; it may have been appropriate in Ancient China to go with the flow, but, sadly, anarchy would never really work in a modern day environment.

However, I do think the idea of the Tao sounds very interesting, and I agree, the phrase 'He who speaks does not know and he that knows does not speak' is brilliant.

Filo Sofia said...

Hi Maddie, thanks for your comment. Yes, I can see what you mean about the problems.

Orite then, how about this as a plan for society? Certain people, such as you, me, and a few other people we know, would be allowed to do what they want and go with the flow, but everybody else has to follow the rules and regulations of Confucius? That could work.